Instructor: Tara Menon Monday, 12:45-2:45pm | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
How do we write about death and mourning? Can literature help us cope with the pain of loss? What techniques do writers employ to convey grief? Can we make the dead immortal through words? In this course, we will read (and watch) widely, from Greek plays to nineteenth-century elegies to twentieth-century memoirs and twenty-first century television. Across genres, we will pay particular attention to form and the techniques of close reading. Works by writers including: Sophocles, Tennyson, Dickinson, Auden, Hopkins, Hardy, Shelly, Joan Didion, Jesmyn Ward, Max Porter, Helen McDonald, Angie Thomas, Sonali Deranyigala.
Instructor: Jesse McCarthy Monday, 9:45-11:45am | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
At first glance Henry James and James Baldwin may seem worlds apart. Yet these two enormously influential writers share much in common. Both are New Yorkers; both spent a good deal of their lives as expatriates; both are celebrated for their queerness, a feature of their style as much as their sexuality. Both were serious, moralizing, and passionate observers of the ‘American Scene’; both writers are deeply committed to investigating and exploring the privacy of consciousness and the currency of experience. Henry James was James Baldwin’s favorite writer. Colm Tóibín has called Baldwin, “the Henry James of Harlem.” What attracted Baldwin to James across their vast racial and class differences? What lessons about the art of fiction can we learn by reading each in the light of the other? Not only the Jamesian influence on Baldwin—but what Baldwin allows us to see might be missing or muted in James. We will think very closely about the subject that deeply occupied both of them: America. And what America means from perspectives acquired from outside of America, looking back in. We will also investigate the expression and communication of sexuality, gender, race, class, money, politics and taste alongside assorted criticism, reviews, and other essays of interest.
Why study literary theory? Is theory a conceptual framework or a tool-kit? Is theory a companion to literary study or is it crucial for literary interpretation? These are some of the questions I propose to address in this seminar which will address literary and cultural problems that have been shaped by theoretical concerns and concepts. This course will not adopt a historical approach nor will it be a survey of “schools” of literary theory. The syllabus will focus on topics such as Power, Race, Identity, Sexuality, Environmentalism, Postcolonialism, Inequality, Poverty etc. etc. and trace theoretical contributions that have been formative in shaping the diverse discourses around these issues. . Aesthetic, political and ethical approaches will be knotted together in our conversations. The seminar will be concerned with the relation between cultural form and cultural value. Literary texts will be used in conjunction with theoretical works.
Instructor: James Wood Monday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.
A look at the complex ways in which writers represent their characters' thought in texts by Austen, Flaubert, James, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Giovanni Verga, and Woolf. More broadly, traces the development of stream-of-consciousness, from Austen's incipient mastery of free indirect style, through Flaubert's more sophisticated use of it, to Woolf's full-blown inner monologues, seeing this development as not merely a fact of English and American literature, but as a phenomenon of world literature and an element of our modernity.
Instructor: Katie Daily Thursday, 9:45-11:45am | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
The course aims to strengthen our understanding of the ways in which individuals creatively respond to immigration issues including diversity, equity, and justice in twenty-first century America. Through an intensive study of novels written by first- or second-generation American immigrant women, we will examine immigration’s evolution after the turn of the millennium and its relationships to power and inequity regarding questions of citizenship and belonging. Ericka Sánchez, Eristina Henríquez, Lisa Ko, Yaa Hyasi, Saher Alam, Shaila Abdullah, Chimamanda Ngozi, Adichie, Imbolo Mbue, Laila Lalami.
The novels of Conrad, Naipaul, and Coetzee have a particular value to contemporary discourses on global culture. Writing from specific historical and cultural contexts, all three writers are profoundly concerned with the ethical and aesthetic projects connected to economic and political forms of governance. Our study will focus on the problematic nature of intercultural relations as they are constituted in global networks. The meticulous reading of primary texts is an essential requirement of the seminar, which will focus on figurative language and fictional forms as they are used to imagine community and communication on a global scale. Critical and theoretical writings will be introduced to further the discussion of questions and topics raised by seminar participants.
Written a century apart, the poems of Seamus Heaney and Thomas Hardy create an urgent call and response between earth and under-earth. The poets share metrical virtuosity, compressed lyric forms, the unfolding of personal history within public crisis and transformation, and the recognition that the acuity of sentience - the daily practice of exquisitely precise perceptual acts - is the ethical center of our brief stay above ground.
This course will explore the complex relationship between literature and law, focusing on how each represents and responds to violence and its aftermath. As we survey a series of twentieth-century juridical paradigms (trials, rights, reparations, and reconciliation), our goal will not be to judge the efficacy of literary and legal projects, but rather to study how they imagine issues of guilt, responsibility, testimony, commemoration, apology and forgiveness. Our readings will include novels, short stories, poetry, legal theory, documentaries, and key documents of international law: authors will most likely include Hannah Arendt, J.M. Coetzee, Jacques Derrida, Franz Kafka, Michael Ondaatje, Julie Otsuka, and M. NourbeSe Philip.
The course serves as an introduction to world literature and aims to ask big-picture questions: when and under what circumstances did written stories first emerge? How were they stored? And how will they be transmitted to the future?
The first part is exploratory and is based on working with the Norton Anthology of World Literature. We’ll read widely across 4000 years of literature, and, using the Norton introductions and headnotes for guidance, assemble the big picture of literary evolution. Topics of discussion will include the dynamics of writing technologies from Mesopotamian clay tablet to the internet; the emergence of new genres; the increasing differentiation of literature into religious, historical, political, and fictional stories; and the changing marketplace of world literature. Readings include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Analects of Confucius, the Arabian Nights, The Tale of Genji, the Popol Vuh, and the Epic of Sunjata.
The second part is a laboratory. Working individually and in groups, we’ll devise strategies for preserving literature for the future. Which texts and types of literature should we select? How should we store them to assure their survival? And how can we communicate the significance of these texts to humans living in the distant future? This laboratory workshop will give us a chance to challenge existing canons and to envision the literature of the future. Readings and selections for the second part to be chosen by students.... Read more about English 90wl. The Future of World Literature
Instructor: Deidre Lynch Thursday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: TBD Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
This course investigates literacy, literacy instruction, and literacy movements past and present, in theory and practice. Engaging with recent fictions and memoirs by authors such as Elena Ferrante and Ocean Vuong, with African-American slave narratives, laboring-class autobiographies, and other texts from the 19th century, and with materials from the history of alphabet books and children’s literature, “Literacy Stories” investigates the rich, ambivalent ways in which literature has depicted the literacy needed to consume it. Given under the auspices of the English Department and Harvard’s Mindich Program for Engaged Scholarship, “Literacy Stories” also involves collaborations with, and volunteer work for, various community organizations devoted to literacy advocacy and instruction.
This class will give us the opportunity to reflect—something we’ll do in part by learning from our community partners about the many ways of relating to texts that flourish beyond campus—on the contradictory ways in which we value reading. We’ll consider, for example, the friction between solitary and social reading: how the pleasures of this activity lie sometimes with how it separates us from others and sometimes with how it connects us. We will be thinking about literacy’s long-standing association with individual self-determination and thinking about how that association is put into question whenever people’s reading matter gets weaponized as an instrument of their domination. Literacy, the literary and theoretical texts on the syllabus will alike remind us, has a politics. Learning to be literate often involves experiences of unequal power relations and exclusion. Reading with(rather than “to” or “at”) others is an ethical challenge—one that humanities concentrators especially ought to explore.
The writing assignments you will do for “Literacy Stories” will join together academic analysis with personal narrative and social reflection. They will likely encompass regular short responses to the assigned texts, journal entries that reflect critically on what you have been learning from your volunteer work beyond Harvard, and interviews with literacy advocates and community organizers. The capstone project for the seminar will be a memoir—your own literacy story-- reflecting on your own memories of reading instruction and integrating those memories with your experiences in the community over the course of the semester.
Note: this course can be credited toward the Graduate School Education’s secondary field in Educational Studies.
Harvard’s still governing 1650 charter states the institution’s mission is “the education of English and Indian youth.” What were the ideas about race, culture, and colonialism that made such an idea possible? What was life like for the early Native American students who studied at Harvard, and what happened to the founding idea of a multiracial intellectual space in Harvard Yard over time? This course studies the Harvard Indian College and early Harvard history in the context of broader relationships between New England colonists and Dawnlands Native peoples. We will focus in detail on the surviving early writings of Caleb Cheeshateamuck, Benjamin Larnell, and Eleazar alongside colonial writings by John Winthrop, John Cotton, Anne Bradstreet, and others. We will learn about the catastrophic violence of King Philip’s War and the ways that conflict changed ideas about race and community in the seventeenth century. We will learn about Harvard’s continuing role throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in organizing relations with New England Indian communities, and the forms, genres, and rhetorics Indian activists and protesters developed in response. Throughout our course, we will bring Native American voices from Massachusetts, Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and other communities to the fore, in the past and in the present day.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Migrations" requirement for the Class of 2022.
Is the complexity, the imperfection, the difficulty of interpretation, the unresolved meaning found in certain great and lasting works of literary art a result of technical experimentation? Or is the source extreme complexity—psychological, metaphysical, or spiritual? Does it result from limits within language, or from language’s fit to thought and perception? Do the inherited forms found in literature permit only certain variations within experience to reach lucidity? Is there a distinction in literature between what can be said and what can be read? The members of the seminar will investigate the limits literature faces in giving an account of mind, everyday experience, thought, memory, full character, and situation in time. The seminar will make use of a classic case of difficulty, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and a modern work of unusual complexity and resistance to both interpretation and to simple comfortable reading, Joyce’s Ulysses. Reading in exhaustive depth these two works will suggest the range of meanings for terms like complexity, resistance, openness of meaning, and experimentation within form.
We are surrounded by borders, and to understand them is to explore how they’re drawn, why they’re constructed (and deconstructed), and who can pass through them. This seminar will invite you to open up our ordinary understanding of borders to discover an extraordinary variety of perspectives and media.
This semester, we will think deeply and critically about borders and movement in order to better understand our individual positions as global citizens. We’ll consider borders in our personal lives through social media and how people curate their online worlds. We will briefly study maps so that you can construct your own, considering your own borders. We’ll visit a Harvard museum to discover how frames are both constraining and liberating. We’ll examine fiction and film, attuning to the conditions of border migration and how people move. We’ll sightsee in our lives and the spaces around us to begin understanding borders and movement in twenty-first century America. Through all of this exploration, we will discover the many lenses that can be used in order to grapple with the complicated nature of American borders while working to understand our own positionality in the world around us.
This studio-based seminar examines the concept of "building a character" and pushes it to its limits. While acquiring Stanislavski- and Method-based acting techniques, students will also consider psychological realism in light of philosophical, psychological, sociological and scientific notions of authenticity and falsehood, presence, mimesis, identity, and empathy. What does it mean to be "authentic?" Can you ever truly understand another person, or turn into one? What does "realist acting" mean in an age of AI, social media, motion capture, cultural appropriation, and fluid identities? Whose realism are we talking about?
The seminar involves readings, films, and intensive acting work, and culminates in a final project where participants turn into each other.
Please note that this course will be offered on Zoom and will meet remotely for the entirety of the Fall 2021 semester.
Five Shakespearean Pieces: The seminar will focus on five plays (Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Henry V, The Tempest, and Merchant of Venice) with special attention to staging, literariness, and location.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Shakespeare" requirement for the Class of 2022.
Instructor: Derek Miller Wednesday, 12:00-2:00pm | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
This course explores the history of dramatic writing in the US and Europe through the study of every play ever written. Of course, we cannot actually study all those plays—that’s the point. Our explorations of plays (or any other type of art or literature) necessarily include a small fragment of all plays. What does it mean that we learn cultural history this way? That we study drama and yet know nothing at all of most dramatic writing? How, as people invested in the theater and its history, should we think about such astounding ignorance? And what is the relationship between those plays we do see, act in, or read, and the vastly larger number of plays we will never encounter?
This seminar puts theatrical texts in perspective by focusing on the relationship between the exemplary texts that we anthologize and study and the forgotten archive of everything else. We will approach this problem by comparing a set of exemplary texts to lists of plays, considering the relationship between the examples and the lists, and then extrapolating to hypothesize what we can and cannot truly know about the plays we have not read. In short, this course explores the limits of our knowledge of cultural history. We seek not to answer questions definitively, or even really to produce a set of viable hypotheses, so much as to understand better those things we do not and can not know about theater. We will learn, in other words, what we can never learn.
Instructor: Peter Sacks Wednesday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: Online Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
Please note that this course will be offered on Zoom and will meet remotely for the Spring 2022 semester.
This course will study selected poems of Marianne Moore, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Bishop, Lorine Neidecker, Robyn Schiff, Natalie Diaz, Tracy K. Smith, Cathy Park Hong, Layli Long Soldier, and others.